Matthew Washburn studied classical music theory at the University of the Pacific and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, but he says he does not make his living as a professional musician. Still, his career is in the music industry.
Matt is a portrait photographer and videographer for Indie musicians. It all started when some of his college classmates asked him to help them take their headshots. “I had a camera, so I tried it out” he says.
And it turned out he really liked photographing people. And eventually he turned his love for musicians, and his love of photography, into a business. “As a double-bassist,” he says humbly, “I have a lot of practiced skill, as opposed to talent. I’m really good at it, but it is not coming from something inside.”
While Matt still plays with a chamber orchestra, and the occasional tango band, his place in the music industry appears to be behind a camera. He still does portrait photography, but a big focus of his right now is videography for Indie bands. He’s worked with “The Family Crest,” “Bhi Bhiman,” “Buxter Hoot’n,” Theresa Calpotura, and “Goodnight, Texas” --shooting music videos live, and in one take—no editing.
His love of live club music clearly comes through in his videos, as he gives the viewers an experience quite similar to seeing the band in person. His camera is in constant movement throughout the shoot—capturing small, intimate moments of the performance.
“Matt is performing in those videos,” according to Avi Vinocur of the Folk Rock/Appellation band Goodnight, Texas. “He’s walking around, he’s involved in what’s going on in the song. He’s always ready to roll on to the banjo at just the right time. In one of our videos, there’s one point where Matt focuses on a ham sandwich in the room—that’s him performing” says Avi.
Matt sees a connection between photography and videography and music. “When I started doing photography, I would mix up terms. For example I’d say, ‘this shot is out of tune, no, I mean, out of focus.’ Film is even closer to music, because they both use time. I find a lot of similarities between still photography, but I find even more between music and film.
And bands see the value in capturing their performance on film. Goodnight, Texas is just finishing up their first record, and see videos as a way to present themselves professionally, and even perfect their songs, and performances.
“Working with Matt forces us to develop something that is going to be released. After filming the videos, now I’m trying to keep sight of the videos when we are working on music. Videos help us visualize what works…we can look at ourselves critically. It helps us ‘not be unsure’ of what works.” Says Avi.
Avi’s bandmate Patrick Dyer Wolf agrees. “Videos help people see and remember the band—by experiencing it with both senses and ‘see us the whole time.’ The videos help people see us play live—those are live videos. Which is cool. I didn’t even know we could pull that off—play it live, and play it correctly.”
Matt shoots live, and in a single take. Although, he may ask the bands to perform a couple of times, “On the first take, I may be a little bit wobbly, and not know where I’m going, but then I get warmed up.” But too many takes may be too much. “If I do eight takes of one song, it becomes really weird and mechanical, and not organic at all,” he says.
Matt believes that luck plays a role in getting a great take. The video must move perfect, and the band has to deliver a great performance at the same time. As Avi says, “Matt could have had a fantastic shoot, but we could have screwed up the words or something. But the first takes are often spontaneous, and creative. I think the ham sandwich was a first take.”
Clearly, Matt’s love for music and musicians and his eye for bringing the audio and visual experience to film is what makes him successful. He’s clearly drawn to musicians, and they to him.
It’s a love affair that works to turn creativity into good business.